Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison

I read my first Toni Morrison!

I tried reading Beloved like 6 years ago, but I remember being really, really freaked out in the beginning and having to stop it. Like I distinctly remember that I was living at my sister’s house, reading on my bed, and it was scaring me and I had to quit. This is why it was on my R.I.P. VIII pile*, although now that I’ve successfully read it I realize it wasn’t THAT scary… definitely creepy, and horrifying overall because of the consequences of slavery… but now I’m getting ahead of myself. You might want to know what the book is about.

Sethe. Proud and beautiful, she escaped from slavery but is haunted by its heritage – from the fires of the flesh to the heartbreaking challenges to the spirit. Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War, this profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is Toni Morrison’s greatest novel – a dazzling achievement and a spellbinding reading experience.

That’s from the back of the book, and it honestly doesn’t tell much, but it also sums things up really articulately. Sethe IS proud and beautiful, and she IS haunted by her years as a slave. It IS profoundly affecting – I can’t say that it’s an enjoyable book to read, but it’s an important book to read, and disturbed me in several different ways.

But I’m going to tell you a little bit more, without being too spoiler-y. Sethe escaped from slavery 18 years ago, and she now lives in her mother-in-law’s house with her daughter Denver, and the house is haunted by an angry baby ghost. (Seriously, this isn’t a spoiler – it’s on the first page.) One day Paul D. shows up at the house – he was one of the slaves Sethe knew at Sweet Home, and his arrival changes everything. From there, the plot slowly unfolds – the story of Sethe’s escape from slavery, her arrival at her mother-in-law’s house, who the baby ghost is, and why it’s haunting them.

The things that happen in this book, to Paul D and to Sethe and her whole family, are fucked up. And that’s because slavery is fucked up, and this book shows that perfectly. Beloved excels at showing some of the darkest psychological impacts of slavery, which make it intense, uncomfortable, and terrifying to read. You know how sometimes you read a classic or an award-winning book and you think “Why? Why in the world would this win an award?” Well I totally get why Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I wish it was on all the high school reading lists, although I’m sure it would immediately be protested and stupid book-banning parents would fight it, but it’s IMPORTANT. The whole point of the book is the horrible, upsetting things that happen and students should read it and discuss it. It’s a tragic story, full of pain and sadness and regret, and that’s why it’s a really good book.

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

 

 

*Seriously, there’s an angry baby ghost. You guys know that babies/dolls/small children/gnomes/any small creatures freak me out, so obviously that was the scariest.

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27 comments

  1. Glad you enjoyed it! Beloved actually was assigned to me in high school. We spent weeks and weeks on this book, but our teacher wasn’t really that great at teaching it. He tried, but I didn’t really feel like he helped us understand the book better. As for myself, I remember being rather scandalized and confused by the book as a high schooler.

    It was later assigned to me in college (twice, actually – I was taking African-American Lit and Literary Criticism from the same professor and in the same semester, and the professor assigned the book in both classes.) I understood it much better then and got much more out of it. That said, I wonder what it would have been like to read it on my own, and what I would have thought of it.

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    1. I had this for a high school class as well. I don’t remember much about it, other than being relieved that it wasn’t yet another 19th-century classic. It’s been on my list to re-read for some time, and I expect when I finally get to it, it’ll be just like I’m reading it for the first time.

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      1. That might be a great thing! There are probably so many books that I could re-read and it would be like the first time. I think this one is going to stick with me for a bit though. It made me think.

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      2. I know it’s a pretty heavy book, and I know I liked it more than most of what we read in class… so it’s surprising that I don’t remember more of it (even though it was – yikes! – almost 15 years ago). I guess I just wasn’t ready for it at 16.

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    2. I can totally see being scandalized by it in a school setting, which hopefully would make it all the more interesting and engaging to kids. I guess I technically read this on my own, but I referred to Sparknotes A LOT to make sure I was understanding things (Morrison’s style isn’t exactly the clearest) and I found the notes on her writing and what different characters and images stood for really interesting. I might not have enjoyed it as much if I read it with ZERO help along the way.

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  2. This is such a powerful book. I first read it in college for an English class, then read it again a few years after that for myself. Morrison is a major literary force and she doesn’t shy away from the difficult and disturbing.

    My personal favorite of hers is The Bluest Eye, which was also her first book. The narrative itself is a bit more straightforward, but it’s just as heartbreaking (maybe even more so) as Beloved.

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  3. “It IS profoundly affecting – I can’t say that it’s an enjoyable book to read, but it’s an important book to read, and disturbed me in several different ways” this is accurate for so many of Morrison’s book. I mean, this one especially, but could work for them all. So good but MAN are they a lot of work (mostly emotionally) to get through.

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  4. I read this in college and had an incredibly intense visceral reaction to it. I would never, never read it again — although it is important and I am glad I read it the once. I had to leave class early when we were talking about it because all the horrible things that happened were making me sick to my stomach.

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    1. I would hate to talk about it in a class, because the subject matter is so sickening, but that’s also kind of why I think people should be reading and talking about it in class, so that stuff like this doesn’t get swept under history’s rug and just shrugged off, you know?

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  5. I read this in college and I really enjoyed it… Not in like a feel good way, but in a WHOA kind of way. Because, well, ANGRY BABY GHOST. (And the story behind the angry baby ghost grated my soul like cheese…)

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  6. Glad you liked this! I had to read it in uni for American Lit course but remember near nothing now, which is why I added it as a re-read to my classics club list.

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  7. I remember reading this in high school for AP English and I just did not get it at all. I didn’t even realize what the hell was going on or that there was even a ghost. It was way over my head. Maybe I’ll re-read it one day but my memory of it is a blur of confusion. So yeah, it’s cool that you could understand and get something out of it even if it was a difficult subject.

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    1. Morrison’s writing style is a bit vague and unclear sometimes, so I totally get why you were confused. Sparknotes really saved me in several parts there. I do think it’d be worth a re-read, if you’re ever in the mood for something a bit creepy, tragic, and historically important.

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